Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Peek at the Week Ahead!

Today, I'm linking up with Jennifer @ Mrs. Laffin's Laughings to give you a peek at my week!  I figure if I write about what I'll be doing for the week, it will help to give a framework when I go back and explain a lesson more in depth :) This is in contrast with how I *have* been doing it lately...and I want to make that better.

Tomorrow, we are heading into Day 3 of NWEA MAP testing.  Several years ago, when we were still in our blocked schedule/8 period day model with 80 minutes every other day with our classes, we only needed one day for MAP testing.  This is our third year with a 6 period/50 mn per class model, and we have been running testing on two class days.  Last year, our testing coordinator had a massive amount of kids for who had either been absent or who were very thorough test she planned three class days for us this year.  We started on Thursday and are finishing tomorrow.  I will have kids working on it tomorrow, because I had each class meet in my room instead of the computer lab, and I collected an assignment and kind of dawdled on Thursday knowing we had lots of time.  I most definitely could do it in two (and have done so in the past two years) & I usually didn't have anyone on the "still testing list" except for kids who had been absent.

This is an aside from what we are doing this week, but I'm wondering what y'all think of MAP testing (if you give it) vs your state tests.  I prefer the NWEA MAP test to our MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) mainly because it shows the students' growth over a number of years regardless of whether they struggle or excel.  They don't just learn how they are doing vs their peers; they learn how they are doing vs themselves.  

And I give them kudos for sitting so patiently and diligently and completing the MAP test.  Those passages look long and tenuous (I don't read them...just when I am doing the laps to see how far they are!) and I rarely have students complain about it.  I very clearly send them the message that I want them to try their hardest, etc...that they should see this as an opportunity to see how they are doing in reading comprehension vs as something that they "have to do." 

The hard thing now is that we don't do spring testing anymore, so this is the last time students in our district take the MAP test unless they are in Strategic Reading.  When MCAs for Math went online, the MAP got ousted from the computer lab.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what you all think of MAP testing...

On to Tuesday.  Tuesday, I'm prepping students on Socratic Seminars for the first time this year!  We had an awesome time with these last year (and I fully thank my colleagues bc without them I totally wouldn't have made the leap into this kind of activity.)  Last week on Monday and Tuesday we did a close reading of Salvador, Late or Early by Sandra Cisneros. I'll explain that a different time, though.  Then Wednesday I was at the district office for co-teaching, but my lovely sub Kathryn facilitated a reading of Children Raising Children from She Knows Parenting.  They did some coding and thinking about the pros and cons.  We will pick it back up Tuesday!  Our Socratic Seminar discussion will focus on both Salvador and the article.

First, I'll go over what a Socratic Seminar is (ppt), what sentence starters are helpful, and how we run them. Carly made a Socratic Sem prep sheet for this story with food for thought like whether or not siblings should get paid for babysitting siblings or if it is just family duty. The kids will have time to fill in their thoughts as well as textual evidence, and then well have our first try at the discussion. I'll post photos from the prep sheets, etc. later in the week.

Wednesday, I'll introduce the culminating project/assignment for the past five weeks (learning skills and routines of 7th grade English through literature.)  It's a picture book project that Carly and I cooked up this summer. They will be in groups of three or four, and they have a choice of 10 different picture books. Depending on they one they choose, they have a particular skill to focus on and a particular routine to focus on.  Again, I'll post photos and explain more as the week moves forward.

That's all for now.  Next week at this time, I'll be heading into Elements of Fiction, which will be like returning to an old friend after these long (but fulfilling) weeks with new and repurposed curriculum!!  

Whew!  Have a great week everyone!  Michelle

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is it Really Almost October? (or Are You As Tired as I Am? :)

Hey there teacher blog readers!

I patiently look at my Bloglovin' blogfeed every day waiting for updates from the teacher bloggers I love to read (well, really I peruse it in the haze in between after school/supper/napish time/running/boys to bed/grading/our bedtime), and then I realize that they (you) like me haven't been blogging as much as the summer months allowed.  And I thought I better get going on more posts before this becomes long lost, which is something I truly don't want!

Yesterday, my special ed co-teacher and I had one of our two professional development days at our district office.  The morning is spent with other co-teaching groups (two were from our school, and one group of three was from one of our other middle schools) and the afternoon is spent planning.

This is our second year co-teaching in this style, and it's nice to have the time to focus on it, reflect, and do some planning.  Our cohort co-teachers always have us doing activities in the manner in which we can use them in the classroom, so we did some jigsawing, a tea party,  a team builder, a conversation activity that was like speed dating, etc. We also reflected on how we teach, ie:
  • parallel teaching
  • alternative teaching
  • teaching together
  • one teach, one float
  • one teach, one observe
  • station teaching

We really like to teach together, but it has been more one teach, one float lately as we are diving into new curriculum/lessons, and as we are getting into the school year.  Also, we only have common prep time every other day, so our time is more limited.  Nevertheless, we really need to choose a planning time again (like we did last year) and stick to it, at least now before IEP/paperwork season hits for her, which unfortunately, for Special Ed teachers is most of the year.

Right now, in our 5th period class we have 32 kids, and in our 6th period class we have 32 kids.  Also, in each class, 17 students have IEPs, ranging from help with writing, to students with 2nd grade reading levels, to students with ASD. Or a combination of the three.  

Take-aways from the morning:
Website: To loop videos if you'd like!
Website:  Paste in a YouTube address and watch the video sans comments
A little girl's first ski jump:  Here through viewpure
And this team building activity which I have pinned but hadn't ever done!

For the planning time, we looked over what we've done so far this fall, where we have re-purposed old texts and added new texts and activities, and reflected on how it went and places where we need to parallel teach for next year vs have the whole group.  We'll probably look for alternate pieces (articles and a piece from Sandra Cisneros) that will be a better fit for kids who struggle with reading.

Right now we are MAP testing for three days, so we have a little reprieve aside from looking at data.

Before I head off for the night, here is a link to the ELA Lead Teacher video for our district. It may be private, but I thought I'd try and see if it works here, too.  It's a look at our team and what we do :)

All the best, and TGIF!!


PS  I promise more ideas/examples next time.  I love getting ideas from other teachers and am so visual, so that's something I want to offer here, too :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Awesome News & A Day in the Life!!

I get to officially announce that I've been hired as the 7th grade Lead ELA teacher in my district & will be working with a group of teachers 6-12 on moving forward with our grade level colleagues on inquiry/Common Core-based curriculum. Pretty awesome as ISD 196 is the fourth largest district in Minnesota!  I'm humbled and very excited to get to work. I still have my regular job at school teaching 5 sections each day of 7th grade English, but I will be out of the classroom about once a month plus for after school meetings twice a month to work with the other grade level reps on moving forward with curriculum.  When we have professional development days, I'll head up the 7th grade ELA meetings. This is our third year of the cycle, so we aren't starting from scratch.

I have an awesome bunch of 7th grade teachers district-wide to work with...seriously. I think we are happy in the middle, right between 6th and 8th.  And I owe a tremendous amount to my close colleagues at FRMS--Robin my special ed co-teacher, Carly--my closest colleague in crime, and Rachel--who moved to sunnier fields (beaches) in Fla...for holding hands and jumping off the dock into uncharted territory (for us.) Our teaching is definitely stronger, and it is truly through team work that we've grown like we have and dared to try new things.

Speaking of new things, I've mentioned that we are repurposing stories from the beginning of the year with a different focus than before.

I've used The Guys Who Got Bin Laden (Scholastic Scope) for the past two years (it was published two years ago for the 10 yr anniversary of 9/11) but never with this much academic focus.

This past Friday after some vocab work, we did the following with the article:
1) Talk about text features and skimmed the photos/headings, etc.
2) Did a four corners activity prompted by the box on p. 7...
    Students had to decide which would be hardest:
         a. Swimming in shark-infested waters
         b. doing 42 push-ups in 2 minutes
         c. retrieving a mask at the bottom of a pool with your teeth (& your hands tied)
         d. going five days without eating
    Hands down, most students would have trouble not eating, with the shark bunch in second.
    Then of course we had a push-up contest with willing participants in each class...and of course my little wrestlers always won!  One from 1st period did 42 PUs in 32 seconds, and another in 4th period did 42 in 27 seconds!
3) Then they got re-seated and armed with a highlighter and the article.  I wanted them to work on marking up/coding their text as I read...focusing on information that seemed the most important.  We generally got through the article with the time left, except for the class that met during the planned fire-drill. Of course I always forget about them...

Monday we had a quick post-test on the vocab from Names/Nombres by Julia Alvarez, 
and then we focused on Cornell Notes.  I had them get out their articles, and I gave them a copy of a CN page (we'll most likely do them in notebooks when we do notes...I wanted them to see the template and use it for now.) Here's how it went...

1) I did a brief overview of CN and then showed the three video clips that I mentioned in yesterday's post.   The first one has no audio and illustrates the parts of the page, so I could talk while it ran.  The second one made the kids cringe (CA Girls) but I couched it in humor and purposely played it hoping some of it would stick.The third video, Mr. Hixon Does Cornell Notes, shows another way to do them, so we could really talk about how there are numerous ways to use a CN sheet and that it probably depends on the teacher as well as what you are taking notes on.

2)  We filled in the top and then using the document camera, I was able to skim back through the first two sections of The Guys Who Got Bin Laden, going back and forth between the article and the CN sheet, writing new notes with each class so they could see the act of taking the notes. I talked about how magazine articles have narrative leads to draw you in and that a narrative lead usually doesn't have anything "note  worthy"...that a text book may have note-able information right away and they need to be on the look out for that. We got through the intro and some classes got through A Symbol of Evil.

Here are some shots of my notes...

This morning, I was planning on being done with the article, and moving on to a piece that we photocopy to the article packet--it's from American Teacher (Sept/Oct 2011) and titled Is Sept. 11 footage appropriate for the classroom?   (hyperlinked...go to P3). The plan was to highlight the arguments and then hold our first round of philosophical chairs.

But then...after tossing it around in my head, I decided to continue on with the note taking. Not that it's a fun activity...but I noticed yesterday that kids REALLY struggle with taking notes. They are ok/pretty good at copying down notes, but they haven't learned a whole bunch to take their own notes.  I noticed that they were intently and studiously (mostly ha ha!) transferring my information from the board, but it was so passive.  And I wasn't comfortable with that.

So I thought ok...we'll finish up the section called A Symbol of Evil together, and then I'll have them work in small groups to take notes on the remaining sections.

My first period this year (and second, too, really...third I have off and then it's the lunch/study block) is really a great group to start the day with. They have been a fun and pretty sharp bunch so far, and they are pretty good guinea pigs :)  

I noticed during 1st and 2nd that some kids really got how to highlight and then skim from their highlights to take notes on a section but that the ones who were lost really were lost.  So I jotted a quick post-it to myself that looked like this:

Paragraph #ering
Paragraph to paragraph notes
HIGHLIGHT what is important
What to paper? (what to transfer to their paper)

We have co-taught classes (Robin and I) 5th and 6th periods, which means that 13-16 kids of the 32-34 in those classes have IEPs for reading/written language.  I knew we'd have to have something more focused and helpful for those classes.  So during prep time, I drew this up...

4th period did pretty well with it, but by the time 1pm rolled around, the kids were tired and having trouble focusing as much as they maybe are able to in the morning. Sound familiar?

So we ended up modifying a bit, especially by 6th period, and showing student examples of notes taken during 1st and 4th without guidance from me:

And I quickly modified the direction sheet for 6th by, um, cutting off the top of the directions before they moved into small groups since they would be looking at the last three sections not four:

 It's tough because we still have gifted/talented & average/high students in both co-taught classes, and pull-out English classes were cut several years ago in favor of mainstream English + Strategic Reading with the Special Ed teacher, so we also have 2nd/3rd grade level readers in the same class.  

Robin and I work in a cohort in the district with other co-teachers and have time set aside to plan and reflect on how we teach together (vs the old mainstream teacher teaches and sped teacher floats and "helps") but we haven't had much time to really meet and think out how to differentiate for the new stuff this fall yet.  

I did manage to write some notes on what I'd like to do differently next year:

These may be more independent worker directions...
Number all the paragraphs the first day
Visual directions for co-taught
Paragraph by paragraph

We still have some big thinking to do about how much we want to bite off in terms of teaching note-taking.  We don't give a ton of notes, but it seems like these are the same skills needed for finding the main idea and strong details and that it will serve them well.  How much is enough to teach? How much is too much? Is this our realm as English/mainly fiction teachers? Will it help overall, though, with plucking out essential information which is super important for using textual evidence? Discussions we need to have...

Carly tried the YES/NO article today and took a stab at taking notes on it to ID arguments.  After school when we talked, she recommended staying with highlighting the arguments vs taking CNs on them (we've just highlighted in the past.) And to note if you use this piece...the YES position author is much loftier in her words than the NO position author. We'll see how that goes tomorrow...I don't remember it being too hideous last year with co-taught, but then again, we weren't preparing for philosophical chairs, which is a new trial this fall!! 

That's our task tomorrow...

Well, time to get ready for bed (aka try to figure out what Wed/Thurs/Fri really look like in the classroom...who am I kidding...I'm not headed to bed...)

I'll leave you with a snapshot of my desk after school.  So much for a clutter-free classroom. Real desk from the trenches ha ha!!  It looks much better now...

 A little I-Spy...can you find:
Two copies of Have You Been to the Beach Lately? by Ralph Fletcher
A highlighter, pencil, and pen used for note taking

A half eaten Zone bar
Glue bottles used for interactive notebooks...but Market Pantry tops come these
     are the inactive bottles!

An uneaten apple
Student examples of notes from the article
A vocab post-test key
A Gallileo thermometer
A pick mousepad from the Museum of Rock and Roll in Cleveland (ripped apart courtesy of my 2 yr-old)
A SAD lamp...dem be dark days in winter in MN
Not one but two water bottles
Small post-its that I thought might work for focus on the directions sheet...not so much
Stuff from my mail box including an Interactive Reader from a student who withdrew & a Teaching Tolerance magazine
A document camera
My school keys
A note from a colleague with TGIF...remember this is a phase (after we crossed paths at daycare on Friday, me barrel-holding a kicking and crying 2 yr-old)
Notes from students with You-tube video recommendations to show during homeroom

And um, what, a computer and a desk, and common formative assessment sheets with some student data on them somewhere in there!!!  

Ok, time to stop procrastinating...

Happy teaching!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Gifted with a Grant!

Last spring, my special education co-teacher and I wrote a grant for 17 Google Chromebooks for the classroom, and we were gifted with it! $5000 from the Eastview Community Foundation, which is a local foundation at one of the high schools in our district. Our tech ladies ordered them over the summer and delivered them TODAY all labeled and ready to go!
Here are the 17 charged and set! A tablet/laptop cart should be ordered soon...our principal agreed to pay for it with site council money. Until then, they are not hooked to their cables and are on this cart. We'll make do!

Here's a close up of one with my Moodle page on it! 

We are pretty darn excited! 

We also wrote a NEA Student Achievement Grant for another set of 17, but we haven't heard yet. The grantees were supposed to be notified by September 15th, but the 15th was yesterday, a Sunday, so ??? Online or by mail ??? Not sure.

Anyway, I was also busy using my doc camera today to do some guided Cornell notes on the article The Guys Who Got Bin Laden (Scholastic Scope.) Here's a shot of that!

Have you seen this horrifyingly awesome Cornell notes take on California Girls?? My ears are a little sore from listening to it all day, but still...props for doing this! ;) I showed this one before and this one afterward!

And two more for good measure...a slice of my back counter with a dish rack for files with mazes, coloring sheets, etc. for my homeroom kids (may be used to hold some of the Chromebooks until our cart comes!) and a shot of the purpose poster I made for the year.

And let's see if this PPT for Writing Long off of a Post-it (which we call Read, Record, and Respond...)

That's all for now :)

Happy teaching,


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oh Baby, Baby....It's a Wild World!

Yesterday I got flipped off and run out on.
Called after school due to a bullying situation.
Told about an answer-eraser who happened to get a really good score. 
Someone in tears due to pulled braids.
Today I stood between two  who were ready to pound.
Hand-marks on a neck. Probably a suspension tomorrow.

Dude...the school year's begun!

Most of the kids are just fine :)

And I can't find my bullying prevention t-shirt that I need to wear tomorrow.

Rollin' with the punches...


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mid-Game Change

Have you ever started thinking about the next day's lesson and realized that it a) wasn't right; b) didn't flow well from what you'd just covered; c) that it was maybe a little too complex for the time of year? This happened to me on Friday after school when my special ed co-teacher, Robin, and I were reflecting on how the lesson had gone with our two co-taught classes as well as what was coming up. 

I've written about how Carly and I planned a lot this summer and gave new purpose to our first month--reviewing reading comp skills and teaching the routines we use in 7th grade for responding to lit--and heading from "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto with a focus on making connections, making inferences, and vocabulary  into a non-fiction article with Cornell notes and article summarization seemed to be way too much for Monday.

"Is it too late?" (Robin)

" isn't Monday yet, I guess!" (me)

So instead of Cornell notes tomorrow, up on the block is Julia Alvarez's "Names Nombres" and a focus on writing long off of a Post-it, text to text connections, Costa's Levels of Thinking, and vocabulary.  They will also have a name paragraph to write. I know that seems like a lot, and in the past I would have considered this beating a dead horse (that idiom sounds really awful when written out...even more awful than when it is just said.) But I'm coming around to the concept that we aren't "teaching stories;" we are teaching skills and routines using stories to get there.

At any rate, since we don't have the photocopies for some of this done yet, I'm going to start the story and teach them about writing long off of a Post-it & give them time to do it in class  I'm still feeling a little scattered and trying to figure out the flow, but I think it'll go well.  I've taught this story many times, and we "wrote long" with students starting last winter.  It'll be nice to teach this routine early this year so they can use it all nine months. 

I made a PPT for writing long using a notebook example I made to go with Witness by Karen Hesse.  What do you think?

So here goes for Week 2 of 2013-14 :) Hope all is smooth sailing in your classrooms this week!


PS  Head on over to I'm Lovin' Lit!!  Erin, a huge Saints football fan, is graciously offering a freebie after each Saints victory this season.  Erin, I can't say I'm a football fan (although I have been in the Superdome!) What can I say?? I live in Vikings territory ha ha!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tomorrow is the First Friday of the School Year!

THURSDAY THROWDOWN and So School Begins...

You know that tired feeling...the one after a few days of school???  Yep. I knew you did! Ha :)

Lots of nap taking going on around here including naps starting in the van after day care pick-up for our newly minted kindergartener!

So far this week, things are going pretty smoothly.  My colleagues and I decided to add in more time for vocabulary, so we are stretching our planning out a bit, which is just fine.

Our goal for the first month or so is to use a variety of texts to both revisit reading comprehension strategies and teach the routines the kids will be using this year.

The pieces we are using are:
"Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto

An article on earthquakes
"Names/Nombres" by Julia Alvarez

Related poems (to Names/Nombres) by Pat Mora (Two Worlds & Elena)
       and Yvette Alvarez (Invisible Boundaries)

Have You Been to the Beach Lately? by Ralph Fletcher
A related reading by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated: Saved by the Deep
"Salvador Late or Early" by Sandra Cisneros
A related article on babysitting siblings: Children Raising Children

For the culminating assignment of this unit, students will use picture books to demonstrate understanding of both skills reviewed and routines used.  Carly and I went through a ton of picture books at my house before school started and chose 19...10 to use for the first trimester, and 9 + one to find for the second trimester.  

Of the 10, three are lower level, four are average level, and three are advanced, so it will lend itself nicely to differentiation.  We looked through each and every book and decided on our own what skill(s) and routine(s) the book would go well with.  We know student choice is important, but students will get to self select small groups of 3-4 for this project and get to select one of the ten books.  We figure by identifying what skills and routines will work well, the students don't have to struggle with that part and can dig right in to the project.  The second trimester (if it goes well the first time!) we will have them identify what skills and routines would work well.  Gradual release...

So far, after explaining reading logs, giving a parent homework assignment, and giving a Reading Interest Survey on the first day, we have been focusing on Gary Soto's "Seventh Grade."  Yesterday, we did a quick pre-test on the vocab words from the story, went through a PPT I made with the word, the definition, and visuals, and kids wrote in the definition and sketched a brief representation for each of the ten chosen words. Then we made a Table of Contents in the notebooks and glued some cloze notes on making connections into the notebooks--a huge thanks to ERIN COBB of I'm Lovin' Lit for the inspiration.  The gluing went more smoothly than I could have ever anticipated. 

No snakes, no lakes, just dots!!!!  That's my husband's mantra.  He has an art k-12 license :)

Today, we talked through the Good Readers Make Connections notes and then read the short story, making a list of how Victor's school was similar and different to ours.  In some classes we did a quick vocabulary scramble where I handed out a printed version of the vocab PPT, and kids had to find their word groups which included one student with the word, one with the definition, and one with the visual.  It was quick and really got them up and moving!  Next post, I'll write more about how we are approaching vocabulary right now with this far there has been good feedback!

After linking to Erin Cobb above, I was reminded that it is the first Thursday of the month, which means it is her Thursday Throwdown, a chance to share interactive ideas for our classrooms.  

So, I'll share a lead that I have that I am currently looking into for making things more interactive.  Yesterday, I read one of my Mackin newsletters that was sitting in my inbox, one that had a list of current grants. Along with the grants, there is also an ad for National Flipped Classroom Day. I plodded through some links, watched some awesome videos, and then landed on one for EduCanon. I couldn't find the inferences vs observations video they talked about, but I did look around a bit and sign up on the site.  I got some emails from them today and am going to try hard to do at least one flipped lesson this trimester. 

I don't have a fabulous flipped lesson to share, but I wanted to share the site as a resource and opportunity for all of you.  What do you think? Have you flipped any lessons yet? How has it worked for you in the Language Arts classroom?  Any and all thoughts welcome!!!

Ok, time to make sure I'm ready for tomorrow and then hit the hay!!

Happy Friday tomorrow!



Monday, September 2, 2013


You know that anxious feeling...the one before the day of school???  Yep. I knew you did! 

Tomorrow most of Minnesota goes back to school.  The Great Minnesota Get Together (State Fair) has wrapped up, and autumn is on. 

Here are some photos from my room before we launch!

Happy teaching, Michelle :)

Thrifted comic books...can never have too many!

Some monster signs I made to put into the IKEA Tolsby frames :)

My new welcome white board!  6.50 thrifted frame + white board
from Home Depot.  Thanks to my husband!!
My room from the entry
Home Depot aprons as book holders & Tolsby monster signs, too.
Treats at Izzy's in St. Paul before bed time.
Any my 5 yr old starts Kindergarten tomorrow... :)